It was an album decades before its time and one that has remained a mystery for years. Frank Sinatra and Liberace both held it in high esteem.
The album, called “Love is a Drag,” was groundbreaking for its time. It presented a male singer performing standards which had always sung by women, like “The Boy Next Door” and “The Man I Love.”
It was so ahead of its time, in fact, that little information was available about it even when it was released in 1962, on the made up label Lace Records, because Edison International didn’t want to be considered a gay label.
“At a time when gay people were deep in the closet, here was an album for them,” JD Doyle, a record archivist, told The Guardian. “There was nothing to compare with it.”
In addition to the fake label, the album was secretive in its lack of other pertinent information, such as who all was involved in its creation.
“For Adult Listeners Only, Sultry Stylings by a Most Unusual Vocalist,” the album read.
“[These songs] have been hummed and whistled by people throughout the far corners of the earth,” the text on the back of the album continues. “Until now, however, all recorded versions (in their original concept) have been limited to the talents of female vocalists – altho (sic) male singers have occasionally altered the original lyric in order to perform them without a question arising as to his manliness or virility.”
“Why?…Were they not written by men?” it asks, congratulating the unnamed singer for the courage to take on the challenge of singing the songs with their original lyrics unchanged.
Doyle, who believes it is the first full-length recording of male-to-male love songs, began playing cuts from the album on his monthly Public Radio segment he hosted in Houston, titled “Queer Music Heritage.”
His dream of finding out more about the music came true in 2012, eight years after he first started playing the music on his show. The album’s producer, Murray Garrett, emailed him after discovering that Doyle had written about the music.
“Murray was in his late 80s then and he was looking back at his life,” Doyle said. “To have him email me was like the Holy Grail knocking at my door.”
Doyle interviewed Garrett, which the label Sundazed heard, eventually leading to this month’s re-release of the album, under imprint Modern Harmonic.
As it turns out, everyone involved in the album was straight.
Garrett’s friend was starting a record company and asked him if he had any ideas for an album that would create a stir. He was reminded of a time in the 1940s when his friend brought him to a gay bar, where he saw a man sing standards typically delivered by women.
Garrett pitched the idea, and then turned to his friend Gene Howard to handle the singing duties. Howard was married with children. His wife asked if the project would be done with dignity. When she learned that it would, she gave her blessing.
The music was provided by some of L.A.’s finest studio musicians.
When Garrett played it for his friend Frank Sinatra, he ordered 12 copies. He played it while doing an album cover shoot with Liberace – Garrett is a photographer – and he the musician reportedly took the record with him when he left.
Garrett says that he also gave the album to Bob Hope, who “went crazy” for it.
“We figured we had the chance to do something we would be proud of,” Garrett said in his 2012 interview with Doyle. “My gay friends said ‘thank you for not giving into any temptations to do something that might have gotten some laughs.’ As I look back, ‘Love Is a Drag’ was one of the highlights of my life.”
UPDATE: Or, as someone pointed out in the comments, you can listen to it on Spotify.